I recently posted a rant on Facebook about how so many ministry leaders were posting about the color of Advent candles and singing Christmas hymns in Advent. It went something like (well, exactly like) this:
“I have no patience for debates over the color of Advent candles and whether or not to sing Christmas songs in Advent. God became incarnate *mind blown*...and candles and carols are all some church professionals on Facebook can post about? Give me a break.”
I had seen so many colleagues posting about these things that I finally snapped and posted about it. 139 likes, 45 comments, and 5 shares later, it seems to have hit a nerve. Facebook informs me that its on of my most popular posts of 2013. Oh, well.
Here’s my problem with all this.
This fall I was invited to speak as part of a series called "Conversations that Matter" for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA. I gave the talk live at the first conversation in Nazareth, PA and then we recorded it for subsequent gatherings. The invitation was to speak about the future direction of the church in a way that provoked conversation and reflection.
This 22-minute video called "Make Your Neighborhood Your Cathedral" explores something I am deeply passionate about and I think is vital to the future of the Church—getting outside our church buildings and being present in public local and digital gathering spaces, whether it is the local cafe or pub, Facebook or Twitter. (Email readers will need to click here to view the video.)
Last Sunday we began posting this message before worship as people entered the sanctuary, and the response has been great.
People are checking-in, tweeting, and sharing pictures way more already.
The simple idea is that by checking-in and posting to their social networks, people can help spread the word about what's happening in our congregation.
Why does this obvious but brilliant little slide work so well?
It gives people permission to break out their smartphones in worship—still kind of a new idea. And it feels fun. You can interact with other people from church in a playful social media way.
“And the word became flesh and lived among us....” (John 1:14)
Last summer, one of my Facebook friends I’ve never met, Tracy Pasche-Johannes, a fellow Lutheran pastor from Muncie, Indiana, and her husband, Jeff, were in my hometown of Boston on vacation. “We’re in Boston! Would you like to meet in person?” they asked in a Facebook message.
We had never met before and we had a pretty thin connection to start with: we shared one common friend, who, at one point thought it would be a good idea for us to know each other and introduced us on Facebook. We had observed one another’s status updates, messaged back and forth a few times, but that was pretty much it.
We agreed to meet up for an Italian dinner in Boston’s North End. Over pasta and Chianti, canolli and cappuccino, we fleshed out one another’s status updates and blog posts, putting a voice with our writing, describing our families, locating one another within our ministry and community contexts.
Over the course of the meal, all the words, links, and video we had shared back and forth on Facebook became embodied and enfleshed, and our digital connection grew into a deeper personal relationship. Our dinner was, in the Johannine spirit of “the Word made flesh,” a feast of the incarnation.
I've always been a big fan of praying for people on Facebook and I have done a lot of it, but it wasn't until my son broke his leg and needed surgery that I really felt the power of digital prayer for myself.
I've prayed many times for others Facebook as a care giver, but to receive prayers as the parent of a sick child was a different and powerful experience, one which I will try to capture in this post.
In short, it was like this: all those comments, likes, direct messages, as well as email and texts - they were each like a votive prayer candle that was lit for my son, and, though we are separated by time and miles, it was like all those candles were all lit in one place. My Facebook newsfeed resembled the rows of prayer candles you often find in Catholic churches and monasteries - visible symbols of the thoughts and prayers of many, bringing us warmth, comfort, and light - lifting my son and family up to God.
Thanks so much for your love, support, and prayers. It means more than we can say.
Here are a few other things I noticed through this experience of digital prayer:
Photo by dpstylesGetting to know a new ministry context can be a fun but time consuming process. Using the geolocation service Foursquare can help you get the most out of your time.
One of the first tasks a ministry leader has in a new call is to getting to know the local community. You drop in at local cafes, parks, restaurants, take in local events, drive around town, getting the lay of the land. You introduce yourself to ministry colleagues and local leaders, and reach out to local news outlets.
You want to understand the community in which your ministry is situated and your parishioners live - you want to let people know that you're here - and begin to demonstrate your consistent presence in the community.
The goal is to start building a network with everyone from the mayor to the local barrista - a network which becomes the groundwork for collaboration, supporting the community, evangelism, and rallying together in times of need.
Foursqure helps take the consistent and demonstrable presence you are building in face-to-face meetings and extend it into the digital meeting places of your community.